Core sector growth slows

India’s key infrastructure sector rose 3.1% in December, much slower than the previous month’s upwardly revised 6.7%, pointing to sluggishness in the industrial sector. Data released showed the output in eight key infrastructure sectors spanning coal, crude oil, natural gas, petroleum and refinery products, fertilisers, steel, cement and electricity remained subdued in December. Growth in December was also slower than the 6.3% expansion posted in 2010. Between April and December, growth rose 4.4%, lower than 5.7% registered in the same year-ago period. The eight infrastructure industries have a combined weight of 37.90% in the index of industrial production. The industrial sector has been hit hard by high interest rates, rising input costs and policy delays. Industrial output rebounded in November and rose an annual 5.9% after declining for the first time in two years in October. Economists said they expected sluggishness in the industrial sector to continue for some time. Monday’s data showed the output in cement and electricity helped the overall numbers in December. The cement sector registered a growth of 13.3% in December 2011 against a decline of 2.2% in December 2010. Electricity generation grew 8% in December 2011 compared to 5% growth in December 2010. Coal production rose 5.6% in December 2011 compared to 3.8% in December 2010. However, in cumulative terms, coal production fell 2.7% during April-December 2011-12 compared to 0.8% growth during the same period of 2010-11. Crude oil and natural gas remained laggards. Crude oil production fell 5.6% in December 2011 compared to a growth of 15.8% in December 2010, while natural gas production declined 10.8% in December 2011 compared to a fall of 0.2% in December 2010.

Starbucks all set to make India debut

Come September, Starbucks, which gained cult status in Seattle and instant fame worldwide, is set to open its first outlet in India. The world’s largest coffee chain will set up cafes through an equal joint venture with Tata Global Beverages, the second largest tea player in world. The $11-billion Starbucks plans to roll out at least 50 stores in the next one year, starting with New Delhi and Mumbai. The iconic brand is making a late entry into the key emerging market — the land of tea — at a time when Indians are increasingly opting for cappuccinos and lattes. “We will offer premium cafĂ© experience but haven’t decided on the pricing yet,” said John Culver, president of Starbucks, Asia Pacific. A Starbucks coffee, on an average, costs upwards of $3.50 globally. Unusually, the outlets will be co-branded as ‘Starbucks Coffee: A Tata Alliance’ on an initial investment of Rs 400 crore .Starbucks has been exploring the Indian market for nearly eight years, and halted its entry four years back following the global economic crisis. In January 2011, it signed an initial agreement with Tata Global Beverages’ coffee unit to source premium arabica coffee that will be produced using Starbucks technology for the India operations as well as for the chain’s overseas outlets.


Foreign investments in Infrastructure

Pitching for foreign investment in the infrastructure sector which needs $1 trillion in the 12th Five Year Plan, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee asked US investors to access the Indian debt market via a mechanism of regulated entities with a sustained long term interest rate.
Meeting business leaders, he assured them that India has evolved a transparent and stable regulatory regime in sectors such as electricity, telecommunications, ports, airports, petroleum and natural gas, and a regulator for the coal sector is on the anvil.
He also said India recently liberalized foreign participation in the debt equity market by allowing foreign investors to invest in Indian equity directly.

Punjab, Uttarakhand go to the polls

Punjab and Uttarakhand go to polls today to elect new assemblies with the Congress hoping to oust the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine in the country’s grain bowl and the BJP in the hill state. According to the Election Commission, over 1.76 crore voters are eligible to vote in the 117 constituencies of Punjab in the second round of five state elections that began Saturday. The voter population is around 6.3 million in Uttarakhand, which has a 70-member house. Of the 1,078 candidates in the fray in Punjab, 417 are independents. There are 93 women candidates. The Election Commission has deployed around 200 companies of paramilitary forces to oversee the Punjab ballot. Nearly 71,000 security personnel will be on duty for the smooth conduct of elections. Many seats will see a triangular contest between the ruling SAD-BJP alliance, the Congress and the Sanjha Morcha, which includes the Left and newly-floated People’s Party of Punjab led by Manpreet Badal, a nephew of the chief minister who broke away from the Akali Dal. The main contestants include Badal (Lambi), Amarinder Singh (Patiala urban), Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal (Jalalabad), Manpreet Badal (Gidderbaha and Maur) and Amarinder's son Raninder Singh (Samana). Congress leader and former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal has been fielded from Lehragaga. In Uttarakhand, Chief Minister B C Khanduri, who replaced Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank last year after corruption allegations, is trying to defend the turf for the BJP. Khanduri, a BJP candidate from Kotdwar, is pitted against Congress nominee Surendra Singh Negi. Dissent within BJP ranks could affect the party’s prospects, party sources admit. Manipur went to the polls Saturday. Uttar Pradesh will see a seven phase balloting from Feb 8 to March 3. Goa will see a one-day poll March 3. Votes in all five states will be counted March 6.

Somewhere in New Delhi....

An illuminated Rashtrapati Bhawan after the Beating Retreat ceremony in New Delhi on Sunday. The ceremony is a culmination of Republic Day celebrations and dates back to the days when troops disengaged themselves from battle at sunset.

Somewhere in Kolkata....

Underprivileged children dressed as Mahatma Gandhi take part during a walk for peace in Kolkata on Sunday. Sixty-four years after his death, Mahatma Gandhi’s name created a fresh world record in the Guinness Book when 485 boys dressed as ‘Bapu’ took part in the march.

Thane transportation bids

Public transport systems are set to undergo a complete change in the next three years in Thane with international transportation leaders expressing interest to develop and operate a mass transit system using a mix of buses, monorails, tramways and even bicycles. Top multinational firms, including Veolia, Bombardier and Scomi, have teamed up with Indian infrastructure giants such as Patel Engineering and the Tata group to bid for the Thane corporation’s contract to create a intracity transport system. “The plan is to improve the mobility of the people, cut down on waiting time for transport and not add more vehicles.It will be an integrated model wherein the agency selected for the work will have to plan, build and operate the transport system which will run about 15 km and cover the entire city,” municipal commissioner R A Rajeev said. The global tenders floated by the TMC invited quick response from four firms---Patel Engineering, Scomi Rail Bhd, Reliance Infrastructure and Tata Realty and Infrastructure---who expressed interest in investing Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,00 crore for developing a mass transit system in Thane. Plans have been put on paper for a public-private-patnership approach, whereby the TMC expects to take advantage of the private partners’ technical know-how and financial resources to address any future challenges in public transportation systems. The TMC will provide the viability gap funding to support the project. “We are open to all options for a sustainable, cheaper and faster transport system. It could be a tramway, monorail, over-the-road coaches etc. The bidder will be expected to prepare a project report and submit a technically-sound project which will satisfy the needs of the citizens here who are otherwise compelled to buy vehicles for a regular commute into the city,’’ Rajeev said.


Navi Mumbai to get India's first cruiseliner port

India’s first dedicated terminal for cruiseliners is all set to come up at Nhava hills, 60 km from Mumbai and next to India’s biggest container port at Nhava Sheva. The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) has accepted the state government’s request to build the state-of-the-art terminal that can accommodate at least three large cruise ships at the scenic 10 sq km Nhava Hills, which will also house a plush five-star hotel and world-class Coast Guard berthing facilities. The JNPT, which was already looking to develop Nhava for the extension of its cargo port facilities, has started preparing a detailed project report for the proposed terminal. JNPT’s deputy chairperson N N Kumar said, “The new terminal will have a large five-star hotel in its complex. We are planning to start catamaran services to immediately transport tourists at the terminal to the Gateway of India.” The terminal’s proximity to the proposed Navi Mumbai International airport and Sewree-Nhava Transharbour link will make it one of best and busiest cruise terminals in the region. Maharashtra Maritime Board has also been asked to explore the possibility of a Marina with a capacity for about 100 boats at Cuffe Parade. The costing of both projects are yet to be worked out. In India, Kumar said, cruiseliners do have docking facilities at Mumbai and Kochi. But both terminals are make-shift and lack even the most elementary facilities such as proper toilets. At Mumbai, the passengers alight at an old building next to the Naval Dockyard, which is shabby at best. The Union government had approved developing the building into a dedicated cruise line terminal, but the Navy shot down the plan as it was coming in its operational area, an IAS officer said. In fact, another project of a marina at Apollo Bunder by Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) ran aground for the same reason. The crumbling port infrastructure and lack of space in the city prompted the state government to look outside the city and Nhava hills became a logical choice. A fortnight ago, Chief Secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad conducted a meeting of senior state bureaucrats and decided to request JNPT for a cruise terminal at Nhava. Till a decade ago, poor facilities and strict taxation regime was forcing cruiseliners to look to other South Asian countries, which cashed in on the opportunity.

Pune BRTS snippets

Inconsistencies in planning and implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad by both municipal corporations, has spurred the central government to push for a consistent and consolidated project for the Pune Metropolitan Region. The union urban development department has asked the Pune Municipal Corporation to take up works to connect two BRT routes – the first on the Aundh-Ravet corridor and the old Mumbai Pune highway. These two routes are being developed by Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation. The directions, which came at a high-level meeting attended by municipal commissioners Mahesh Pathak and Ashish Sharma, also said that the concept of a dedicated BRT should not be compromised at any cost. The ministry has suggested that the design of the existing corridor on the pilot route between Katraj-Swargate and Swargate-Hadapsar should be revised to include a fully segregated BRT. One of the important changes in the offing could be that bus stations will now be located in the median. About operations and planning, ministry officials have said that the BRT in the Pune metropolitan region should be closed-hybrid – that is only BRT buses can operate inside the dedicated lanes and no other buses should be allowed.


High Speed Rail

India's dream of having its own bullet trains may yet become a reality, following Japan's offer of help during a visit of a delegation from that country earlier this month. Encouraged, the government wants to first set up a highspeed rail authority which will implement what will be a gigantic infrastructure project. “A note has been prepared and it will be submitted to the cabinet for approval,“ an official said.It is not known if the proposal will be included in the next rail budget. The government already has a plan to create six corridors for bullet trains that will run at 300 kmph, more than double the speed of the fastest Shatabdi and Rajdhani expresses. These are Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar, Howrah-Haldia, Hyderabad-Dornakal-Vijayawada-Chennai, Chennai-Bangalore-CoimbatoreErnakulam and Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna.
A pre-feasibility study has already been done for Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad, the first to be implemented. A similar study is on for Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar and Howrah-Haldia. Recently, a Japanese consortium bagged the contract for such a study for Hyderabad-Dornakal-Vijaywada-Chennai. A prefeasibility study is expected to be commissioned and awarded for Chennai-Bangalore-Ernakulam soon. A French consultancy, Systra, in its report to the railways on the Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor, has suggested that the project be taken up on a “build, finance, operate and transfer” basis.
This implies public-private partnership. The project could cost Rs 50,000 crore, apart from Rs 7,000 crore needed for rolling stock. It works out to Rs 100 crore per km. The traffic projection is 26.6 million passengers in 2021,going up to 104 million in 2041. All bullet train corridors will be completely fenced elevated tracks.
Kerala also wants a highspeed rail link between Kasargode in the north to state capital Thiruvananthapuram in the south. The state government recently received the centre's nod for it. The 580 km link will cost Rs 1,00,000 crore and be a PPP project.It is not clear if it will be merged with the Chennai-Bangalore-Eranakulam bullet train corridor.

Motown exports firm up

A weaker rupee has boosted the fortunes of Indian car makers, with some big-ticket export orders coming their way. Major players, such as Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Nissan, who have been battling sluggish demand at home, have their order books full for the next two months. Lured by higher export margins, Toyota Motors, world’s No. 2 car maker, also intends to foray into the export market. Hyundai Motor India which has primarily been exporting hatchbacks to Europe, Latin America and the West Asia, has seen car exports jump 16% to 501,794 units in 2011 over the previous year. While India has an advantage of lower labour cost, the rupee depreciation has further increased its bargaining power and volumes, he said. Maruti, which is recovering from the four-month industrial strike at its Manesar plant, has bagged orders for 4,500 more cars from its global distributors. Maruti has seen a major demand coming from new markets like Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan Brunei and South Africa in recent months. India’s largest car maker also plans to start CKD operations (cars shipped as loose components and assembled in the destination market) for the first time where it will export its yet-to-debut Ertiga multi-passenger vehicle to parent Suzuki Motors' global distribution channels. Besides, it will also start exporting the new DZire — an extended version of its popular New Swift —that would be launched next month. South Korean carmaker Hyundai, which is India's top exporter shipping about 40% of its production, has seen improved export demand for its i10 and Santro hatchbacks as well as Accent sedan. It has also started exporting Eon, which is pitted against Maruti’s Alto. Executives said they have been able to bargain better by offering lucrative margins to distributors because of the weaker rupee. Another Japanese carmaker Nissan will also begin exporting its C-segment Sunny Sedan from March, beginning with the West Asia. Its compact car Micra, produced only in India, is exported from its Chennai plant.

Of Gram Sabhas and the Lok Sabha

Struggling to stay relevant amid signs of growing popular indifference, Team Anna chose Republic Day to advocate radical ideas like putting gram sabhas above the Lok Sabha and establishing a referendum commission along the lines of Election Commission. In a video message, activist Anna Hazare also praised the Lokayukta bill of Uttarakhand, in what may be seen as a surrogate campaign for the BJP in the state. He said the legislation drafted by the BJP government should be emulated by all states, something that endorses BJP’s claim to be sincere about fighting corruption under its chief ministerial candidate B C Khanduri. Hazare demanded that a law be brought to give financial and decision-making powers to gram sabhas and threatened to go on a Ramlila Maidan style agitation for it. He also chose to raise the contentious issue of land acquisition, demanding that no acquisition take place without gram sabha approval. "Lok Sabha thinks it is above everyone. This is wrong. People have made you. So they are above you... It is the sacred temple of democracy. In such a sacred place, what has happened in Rajya Sabha in the last day (of the winter session) on Lokpal bill. 550 people were giving their own suggestions. Nobody has asked people. So we need another law. Assemblies and Lok Sabha think that they are above gram sabhas. But gram sabhas are above you. We need a new law which gives such a power to gram sabhas," he said in his 30-minute address at a seminar on ‘Rebuilding the Republic’. Although Hazare’s romance for gram sabha is old, his pitch that the real power should be vested in lakhs of these bodies instead of Lok Sabha has been provoked by the resistance to his agenda in Parliament. The activist even acknowledged as much, criticizing the failure of Rajya Sabha to clear the Lokpal bill.

It's manifesto time in UP

The BJP revived the Ayodhya issue promising to build a Ram temple but Congress came out with plans to create 20 lakh jobs for unemployed youth in their manifestos for the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh where both the parties are trailing major players BSP and SP. BJP, which has been struggling hard to regain its preeminent position in the state, brought back the Ayodhya issue which had once propelled the party to the centre stage of national politics in the late 80s and through the nineties. “Construction of a grand temple is associated with the faith of crore of people of the country. Ram is the symbol of prestige, pride and dignity of the country. “Unfortunately due to pseudo-secularism and vote bank politics it is being opposed. BJP is committed to removing all the hurdles in the path of construction of Ram temple,” said the manifesto, released by a battery of leaders including Uma Bharati, the hindutva mascot.

Identities for all

All 1.2 billion citizens of the country should have unique identity numbers by June, 2013, the Union Cabinet decided on Friday, seeking to cap a fractious internal debate on which agency should record and store biometric data. The Cabinet plumped for a complete rollout of the scheme, aiming to plug loopholes in welfare programmes where identifying beneficiaries and checking leakages is a major challenge. The government is keen to complete the UID registrations before the next general election. Under the compromise arrived at between the conflicting claims of the home ministry on one side and the Planning Commission and UID Authority on the other, it has been decided that both the Registrar General and the Authority will split collection of biometric data. RGI falls under the home ministry. The cabinet committee on UIDAI headed by PM Manmohan Singh ironed out differences between home minister P Chidambram and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and paved the way for UID authority receiving the mandate to enrol residents beyond the 200 million mark. Now, UIDAI will seek to enrol 600 million residents in 16 states and Union Territories where it is already at work. The remaining 600 million will be recorded by RGI as part of the National Population Register. Now, the two bodies will share information. On the home ministry’s concerns, UIDAI has been asked to review its data collection process to address security issues.

Mumbai's Harbour Line to get 12-coach trains

In an important development, the cabinet subcommittee on infrastructure has cleared the proposal to convert all nine-car trains into 12-car ones on the Harbour line. This will increase the passenger-carrying capacity by 33%. A senior official said, “The cabinet sub-committee gave its approval a couple of days ago. It is a forward-moving development, considering that 12-car trains are going to become a necessity on the Harbour line. The project may find a mention in the railway budget.” According to estimates, passenger growth on the Harbour Line stood at 10% per annum as against 3% registered by the Main line of Central Railway as well as the Western Railway. The total number of services on CR is 1,573, which also includes 208 services on the Thane-Vashi-Nerul-Panvel- Trans-Harbour route. As many as 580 services are on Harbour line, of which 172 services operate between CST and Bandra, and CST and Andheri. As of now, all the 785 services on the Main line of the Central Railway havebeen converted into 12 cars. Western Railway has also assured that their services will be converted to 12 cars by March-April.” In anticipation of the project getting a mention in the railway budget, Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) has already begun preparing the layout of the stations whose platforms will have to undergo modification to accommodate 12-car trains. By carrying out the process at this stage, MRVC will be well-prepared to issue tenders as soon as the budgetary approval comes in. The process will be complete in less than two months.” MRVC expects to complete the project in three years once work begins on the ground. Total work on this project, including augmentation of the existing nine-car fleet to 12 cars, is estimated to cost Rs 800 crore. Apart from increasing the length of the platforms, the railway will also have to make changes in the location of signals, besides altering the overhead equipment.


13/7 Mumbai blasts

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Monday announced it has cracked the 13/7 blasts case, and arrested Delhi Police informer Naqui Ahmed and his aide Nadeem Shaikh for the conspiracy that led to 27 deaths. Naqui and Nadeem were in police custody since January 12 regarding the alleged fraudulent procurement of SIM cards. ATS said that Naqui and Nadeem had stolen two Activa scooters, which were fitted with explosives that went off in Zaveri Bazaar and Opera House. Naqui also helped Indian Mujahideen leader Yasin Bhatkal – the prime accused in the case - and his two aides find a house in the city from where the blasts were planned and executed, ATS said. The arrests have, however, thrown up more questions than answers, considering Naqui's association with Delhi Police. It was Naqui who helped the Central security agencies and Delhi Police's Special Cell in identifying the two Pakistanis – Waqas and Tabrez – suspected to have planted the explosives at Zaveri Bazar, Opera House and Kabutar Khana in Dadar. It was Naqui who told Delhi Police about the two Pakistanis' presence in the city even after the blasts. On Monday, ATS chief Rakesh Maria stuck to his stand that the two were not in Mumbai in the first week of January, as claimed by Delhi Police. He was in the custody of Delhi Police for at least three weeks. How come he didn’t tell them what ATS now claims he has revealed? While brushing aside competition with Delhi Police, ATS sources said that Naqui may have agreed to help the former by identifying the house in Byculla where Bhatkal and his aides resided, but he lied about his role in the 13/7 conspiracy. Besides Naqui and Nadeem, Mumbra resident Haroon Rashid Naik (33), who was arrested in a fake currency case last August, has been shown as the third suspect in the case. Besides Bhatkal, Maria said that there were two others who were the key conspirators, but refused to confirm whether they were Waqas and Tabrez. He just mentioned them as "A and B."
Maria said that Bhatkal and his two aides (A and B) planned the bombing, and assembled the explosives. Naqui was involved from the very beginning; it was he who collected Rs 1.5 lakh from Bhatkal, and delivered the money to A and B in Mumbai, ATS sources said. Nadeem, who was Naqui's friend in Delhi, and who resided in Antop Hill in Mumbai, went to Delhi on Bhatkal's instructions. There, he collected a packet containing explosives, detonators and timers, which he brought to Mumbai. Naqui also helped Bhatkal rent a one-room flat in Habib Building, Byculla. It was in this flat that the two Pakistanis resided for almost a year. Two to three apartments were rejected before finalising the Habib building quarters and Naqui paid for it, Maria said. "He (Naqui) aided and abetted in the conspiracy, and reports claiming his innocence are untrue," Maria said. ATS said that Naqui enrolled in a gymnasium at Kumbharwada in Kalbadevi, barely a km from Zaveri Bazar, to facilitate recee of the targeted sites. "His timings at the gymnasium, between 7 pm and 8 pm, coincided with the blasts' time," an ATS officer said. The two scooters Naqui allegedly stole – from Khadilkar Road in Girgaon and the other from the premises close to Hurkisondas Hospital in Charni Road – were used in the Zaveri Bazar and Opera House blasts, Maria said. “The signed helmet of one of the scooter owners was recovered from the Habib Building flat,” he said. ATS also found Naqui and Nadeem's clothes.
Maria said hours were spent going through every slide of CCTV footage captured on 180 cameras. Forty officers; and more than 100 men travelled to 18 states, examining 12,373 witnesses. They got a breakthrough in August, when ATS got a wind of the financial trail of the conspiracy. The trail led them to Haroon Naik, who confessed to a large amount of money that had reached Mumbai for the blast, ATS sources said. Another breakthrough was achieved in November, when ATS got hold of a photograph of a man suspected to have planted the explosives. The picture was circulated among informers in Mumbai, and one of them reported he had seen the suspect in Madanpura. That suspect was Naqui. On December 2, the cops reached Darbangha in Bihar, tracking him, where they came to know about Nadeem's role. The probe also busted a racket involving procurement of SIM cards using fake documents. ATS alleged that the SIM cards were passed on by Naqui and Nadeem to Bhatkal and the other two conspirators. ATS said in the first week of January, they came to know that Naqui had stolen four vehicles in Mumbai (two of which were used in the 13/7 blasts). “We recovered a helmet that belonged to one of the vehicle owners from the Habib Building flat, and also duplicate keys. In the second week of January, we recovered two motorbikes from Naqui's house in Darbangha. Both bikes were stolen from Dongri,” an ATS source said. Maria said that there was no truth whatsoever in the claims that Bhatkal and his two aides were in Mumbai after the blasts. “Yasin Bhatkal was in Mumbai in July, and has not returned since. The two conspirators escaped by November end, around the time seven Indian Mujahideen suspects were arrested by Delhi Police. Do you think the suspects would come to Mumbai to collect the lease deposit on the flat?” Maria asked. Refuting allegations that ATS botched up Delhi Police's operation to nab the two Pakistanis, Maria said there was no lack in coordination. “There will be competition among different teams, but that does not mean we have differences or we spoilt their operation,” he said.

Somewhere in Assam....

Over 1,600 cadres of nine militant outfits of Assam surrendered on Tuesday before Union home minister P Chidambaram and chief minister Tarun Gogoi. A few remnant groups, including Ulfa hardliners led by Paresh Baruah, did not join the peace process. This is the biggest ever surrender of armed rebels. About 201 weapons were deposited by the rebel groups, including five Adivasi, three Kuki and a Hmar outfit. Chidambaram said, “We ask you all to join us in this glorious task of nation building. Not often do we see so many groups, which have taken the path of militancy, returning to the path of peace, reconciliation and brotherhood. We believe all differences can be settled through talks and consultations.” Gogoi appealed to Baruah and his group to join the peace process. In the past couple of years, the government has reached out to several outfits. “We have signed the suspension of operation agreement with Ulfa’s pro-talk faction, we have signed a memorandum of settlement with UPDS and negotiations with the DHD (J) are in the final stages. We expect a memorandum very soon,talks with DHD (N) are progressing well and talks with the NDFB (Progressive) will continue. Talks with the KLNLF are also progressing and the Ranjan Daimary faction of the NDFB has declared unilateral ceasefire,” said Chidambaram. The nine outfits — Kuki Revolutionary Army, United Kukigram Defence Army, Hmar People’s Convention (D), Kuki Liberation Army, Adivasi Cobra Military of Assam, Birsa Commando Force, Santhal Tiger Force, All Adivasi National Liberation Army and Adivasi People’s Army — had earlier declared a ceasefire.

The PM joins Twitter

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has joined Twitter to capture the attention of young Indians and inform people about the work done by his office through 140 characters on the popular microblogging site. “The Prime Minister's Office is now on Twitter @PMOIndia. Thank you for your support,” Manmohan Singh’s newly appointed communications advisor Pankaj Pachauri said on his own Twitter account. Within hours of the account being opened late Monday, Manmohan Singh attracted nearly 10,000 followers with just three tweets till Tuesday afternoon. All the three were written Monday night.The account refers to the Prime Minister’s Office and it would be handled by his media team, PMO sources said. With this, Manmohan Singh has joined the elite club of world leaders on Twitter. US President Barack Obama was among the first to use Twitterto communicate with his electorate in 2008. His Twitter account @BarackObama, is among the most followed of all worldleader accounts, with more than 12 million followers. Among others on the Twitter include Australian prime minister @JuliaGillard, her New Zealand counterpart @JohnKeyPM, Israel's prime minister Benjamin @Netanyahu, and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum.

RBI cuts CRR

The CRR, which is the level of deposits that banks have to mandatorily maintain with the RBI, was reduced to 5.5% from 6%. This marks the RBI’s first reduction in CRR since January 2009 when it had released funds to stimulate demand in the wake of the Lehman Brothers crisis. Bankers said that interest rates are headed down and it is a matter of time before lending rates also come down. The cut in CRR saw the sensex making sharp gains to go past the 17,000 level in intra-day trade on Tuesday. But the move led to a crash in government securities. The RBI’s decision resulted in the rupee going past the 50-mark against the dollar in intra-day trade on Tuesday for the first time in over two months. The Indian currency closed at 50.07.

Somewhere in Lucknow....

A decked up Vidhan Bhawan on the eve of 63rd Republic Day .

Chennai Regional Development Authority

The Tamil Nadu government is likely to expand the designated Chennai metropolitan area by almost seven times to include some key suburbs and industrial townships with the aim of strengthening their infrastructure. Once the proposal for the Chennai mega region gets official sanction, the state government will set up the Chennai Regional Development Authority (CRDA) to ensure balanced regional development of the area covering about 8,000sqkm, up from the existing 1,189sqkm. Senior state officials have proposed the inclusion of portions of three districts — Sriperumbudur in the west, Kancheepuram in the south and Tiruvallur in the north — in the Chennai metropolitan area. The provisional Census 2011 data shows that Chennai recorded a decennial growth of 7.7%, while the neighbouring Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts grew by 38.69% and 35.25% respectively, indicating a remarkable spurt in the growth of population in city’s suburbs. Officials say unscientific land use has restricted development of the urban area, while housing, transportation, drinking water supply and sewerage system remained below par. Low-cost land in the suburbs brought in many new housing colonies in the recent years. In the last decade, the population of Kancheepuram rose by 11 lakh, while in Tiruvallur it increased by 9.7 lakh, straining Chennai’s infrastructure. The present master plan says that the population of Chennai metropolitan area will touch 1.25 crore by 2026. Migration is the prime reason for the rise in population in Chennai’s neighbouring districts, say officials. People came, not just from the southern districts in search of jobs, but from other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Manipur for construction activities. The draft plan envisages CRDA as a statutory body. It will help develop urban settlements like satellite towns with adequate infrastructure, help evolve regional and sub-regional plans, and formulate policies for the Chennai mega region. It will promote projects for new growth centres; assign population and project infrastructure region-wise, besides preserving the agricultural characters of the region. CRDA will be the state’s equivalent to Delhi’s National Capital Regional Planning Board of the Union Ministry of Urban Development, Mumbai’s Metropolitan Region Development Authority and Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority. In 2008, Andhra Pradesh set up the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority by expanding its Urban Development Authority to cover 7,100 sqkm. The expanded limits of HUDA now extend to five districts, having nearly 900 villages.

Somewhere in Pune....

Why this kolaveri di?

Damaged vehicles on Shankarsheth Road after Santosh Mane went on a murderous rage, killing eight people in Pune on Wednesday.


INS Chakra

India’s long hunt for a nuclear submarine is finally over. But it will take the country another 10-12 months to get an operational nuclear weapon triad — the capability to fire nukes from land, air and sea. India on Monday became the world’s sixth country after the US, Russia, France, the UK and China to operate nuclearpowered submarines when the Russian Akula-II class submarine ‘K-152 Nerpa’ was commissioned into Indian Navy as INS Chakra on a 10-year lease under a secretive, almost $1-billion contract inked in 2004. “It will be deadly ‘hunterkiller’ of enemy submarines and warships, as also provide effective protection to a fleet at sea. It can also provide cover to the nuclear-armed INS Arihant if required. With a dived speed of 30-35 knots, INS Chakra will be able to outrun any current Pakistani or Chinese submarine,” said a source. The 8,140-tonne INS Chakra, however, is not armed with long-range nuclear missiles such as the Russian SS-N-21 cruise missiles with an over 2,500-km range due to international non-proliferation treaties. The Indian nuclear triad’s elusive underwater leg will only be complete when the home-grown nuclear submarine, the over 6,000-tonne INS Arihant equipped to carry a dozen K-15 (750-km) or four K-4 (3,500-km) ballistic missiles, becomes fully operational by early-2013. India has the land and air legs in the shape of the Agni series of missiles and fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Defence ministry sources said INS Chakra, commissioned at the Primorye region in far south-eastern Russia in aceremony attended by top Indian and Russian officials, would soon set sail for India. It will be based at Visakhapatnam, where INS Arihant is slated to begin extensive sea trials in February-March after the ongoing harbour-acceptance trials. Though it may not add to India’s nuclear deterrence posture, INS Chakra will give some much-needed muscle to India’s depleting underwater combat arm, which has only 14 ageing conventional submarines to brandish. India is in talks for the lease of another Akula-II class submarine from Russia, say sources. Nuclear-powered submarines are stealthy since they can operate underwater at long ranges for months unlike diesel-electric submarines that need to surface every few days to get oxygen to recharge their batteries and have limited endurance due to fuel requirements. INS Chakra will be armed with the 300-km range Klub-S land-attack cruise missiles, which India deploys on its Kilo-class conventional submarines. The Navy will also use INS Chakra to train sailors in the complex art of operating nuclear submarines. The ‘Charlie-I’ class N-submarine India had leased from Russia from 1988 to 1991 was also named INS Chakra but the expertise gained on it was lost since the Navy did not operate any nuclear submarine thereafter.


High Speed Rail

Japan, a pioneer in bullet train operations, on Thursday committed to “work closely” with the Indian government in its proposed high speed projects in the country. An extensive deliberation was held in this regard between visiting Japanese minister for Land Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Takeshi Maeda and railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, according to railway sources.
Trivedi is understood to have said that there is an increasing demand for highspeed trains in the country in view of its growing economy as well as the demand from a larger section, which aspires such service.
The Japanese minister is believed to have assured his country's support and expressed desire to work closely with India, which has identified six high speed corridors in the country, sources said. Maede led a delegation, which included senior deputy DG of Japan's Railway Bureau Akhihiko Tamura, President, East Japan Railway Company Satoshi Seino, chairman of Kawasaki Heavy Industry Tadaharu Ohashi and Ambassador of Japan to India Akitaka Saiki among others.
Japan’s External Trade Organisation and Oriental Consultancy along with Parsons Brinkhoff India has bagged the contract to conduct pre-feasibility study of the Hyderabad-Vijayawada-Chennai corridor, one of the six corridors identified by Indian Railways for high speed train operations.
Railways has already announced to set up a National High Speed Rail Authority (NHSRA), the approval of which is expected to be placed before the Union Cabinet this year.

Startup Village

India's first public-private partnership (PPP) telecom business incubator, ‘Startup Village’, is being set up on a 15,000 square feet space at the Kinfra Park in nearby Kalamassery and the first phase of the project will be inaugurated in February this year. An agreement in this regard was signed between MobME CEO Sanjay Vijayakumar and Kerala Infrastructure Development Authority (Kinfra) managing director S Ramanath.
Startup Village will focus primarily on student start-ups from college campuses and would be modelled on the technology incubators in Silicon Valley. Itaims to incubate 1,000 product start-ups over 10 years and start the search for a billion-dollar company from a college campus by the turn of the decade.
The National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB), department of science and technology (DST), Technopark and MobME Wireless have joined hands to set up the country’s first telecom business incubator, Startup Village, an Indian telecom innovation hub, Kinfra said in a press release in Kochi. The village will create a vibrant ecosystem for start-ups to create breakthrough technologies for the global telecommunications industry. This would be made possible through association with leading companies in the telecom sector by setting up telecom innovation zones that bring the latest technology platforms and products to the start-ups in the incubator before their release in commercial markets, Ramanath said.
Sanjay Vijaykumar said they were planning to take in 10 start-ups under a first batch by April this year, with about 30 entrepreneurs. The incubator park will have a 4G network, advanced telecom labs and provide all services related to legal and intellectual property issues and accounting, besides full-furnished office spaces, video conference rooms, computers, phone lines, internet, server space and virtual office services required for a student to start a company even while in college, according to Startup Village CEO Sijo Kuruvilla.
“With this initiative, we aim to create a platform for the next generation of entrepreneurs to create enterprises and be job creators rather than job seekers.
We aim to market the Start-up Village aggressively to Non-Resident Keralites and high net worth individuals for extending their support to the start-up ecosystem in Kerala,” he added.
Infosys co-founder and cochairman Kris Gopalakrishnan is the chief mentor of the Telecom Innovation Hub and his mentoring would be the biggest value we can provide to budding entrepreneurs, who can interact with Kris to learn as well as imbibe the art of building a billion dollar enterprise, Sanjay Vijayakumar said.


The Centre has identified four states that will lead the National Investment and Manufacturing Zone (NIMZ) project, which is part of the National Manufacturing Policy (NMP), announced in 2011. “We are working towards implementation of NMP and Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor is a significant part of it. States of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat are working hard on the NIMZ project and we hope to make an announcement in this regard soon,” commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma said while addressing the 84th annual general meeting of Ficci.
NMP envisages setting up seven world-class urban centres that will be hub of manufacturing activity in the country and will help to increase the share of manufacturing from 16 per cent of the GDP to 25 per cent. “As soon as forthcoming assembly elections are concluded and their results declared, the commerce and industry ministry will declare comprehensive details of the proposed zones in consultation with the state concerned, one by one or even simultaneously,” Sharma added.
Meanwhile, Ficci has launched the nationwide Empowering India project on Wednesday by releasing a report that says Andhra Pradesh, with its timebound single-window mechanism, supported by legislation, has considerably eased the burden of businesses in the state while Tamil Nadu leads in the promotion of industrial clusters as is demonstrated by its large automotive cluster, one of the top 10 in the world.
“In the next phase we hope to expand our coverage to the remaining major states as well, and thereafter bring the entire country under the project fold,“ Harsh Mariwala, president of Ficci added.

Gadkari backs NaMo

BJP president Nitin Gadkari has endorsed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for the top posts of prime minister and party head, stirring a fresh debate among GenNext leaders positioning themselves for the 2014 sweepstakes. In an interview to a TV channel, Gadkari ruled himself out of the race for the PM’s post and said he would not seek an extension as party chief after his tenure ends in December. “I will never be a candidate for PM nor will I topple anybody. Modi has good potential to be BJP president and PM,” he said, adding, “I am ready to work as an ordinary party worker. I will support Narendra Modi to take over the mantle.” While he parried queries on the BJP’s choice for the PM’s post, saying the party would make the decision at an appropriate time, his firm endorsement of the Gujarat CM is likely to renew questions about the party’s future leadership. The Hindutva strongman is seen to be a polarising figure who many feel could be an impediment in BJP attracting allies with “secular” claims. The hostility of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to Modi is known and picking the Gujarat leader could hamper alliance making, thereby negatively impacting the party’s poll prospects. This is said to be the main handicap for the leader appreciated for “good governance”. The key issue will be the organizational leadership if Gadkari refuses a second term as BJP helmsman. The party will face the question much sooner than it has to decide about elections and the PM candidate. Modi is popular with the saffron cadre and is also seen by a section as the panacea for organizational weaknesses which have hobbled the BJP in comparison to Congress. Though the decision on who should head the BJP may be an internal issue, its tricky nature stems from the fact that BJP chief would automatically get projected as the party’s PM candidate.


Flights over the country and the Indian Ocean, from East Africa to Australia, will soon be safer, more economical and environment friendly with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) moving a step closer to installing a GPS-aided geo-augmented navigation system (Gagan) for commercial aircraft. Once the system is operational, by late 2013 or early 2014, it will plug a hole in the global satellite-based aircraft navigation umbrella over a vast expanse through which aircraft had to fly with navigational coordinates and no real time geo-positioning. The 800-crore project, taken up by AAI, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and Raytheon, will take India into an exclusive club whose members possess the advanced system including the US, Japan and Europe. “Fifeteen reference and ground stations, including one at Port Blair, have been established and networked using high performance communication circuits. Signals from the satellite are being used to test for availability of standbys and other features,” said D Devaraj, southern regional executive director, AAI. Standby testing, or redundancy testing in aviation parlance, is crucial because at least three ground locations will be required to position an aircraft and at least two ground locations will be used to route an aircraft when it is in Indian airspace. “We are now waiting for Isro to launch its next geo satellite, which is expected in March, to take the next step in setting up the system,” he added. Isro is scheduled to launch GSAT-10 spacecraft that will carry 12 C Band and 12 Extended C Band transponders and a second Gagan payload after subsystem fabrication and testing are completed. A third satellite with another Gagan payload, for back up functions, will be launched sometime next year. Gagan’s geosatellites will use the C band, normally used for long-distance telecommunication, and the L band, also used by EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system. Gagan will help aircraft take the shortest possible routes, saving fuel and time, with GPS data provided by the satellites. Aircraft will not need to depend on groundbased navigational aids like VOR (VHF omni-directional range) or NDB (non-directional beacon). Multiple satellites and ground stations will track an aircraft’s speed, altitude, position and route and cross check for accuracy. Gagan comprises three geo stationary satellites, 15 reference stations, two master control stations and three uplink stations. One geo stationary satellite (GSAT 8) was launched from South America in May 2011. The satellite has started to send signals to ground stations across the country. Raytheon has installed ground stations for the system and has, in association with Isro, completed development of systems to provide aircraft with satellite-based navigation and weather information, said Robert Meyers, director, business development, Network Centric System, Raytheon. “We are currently working on the impact atmospheric flares can have on GPS data. This was a problem in the US,” Meyers said. AAI is already in the process of upgrading its ground systems to integrate them with Gagan when the system is operational. Air traffic control has been automated at Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. AAI is currently implementing a Ground-Based Augmentation System (GBAS) to help pilots locate and land at a runway and taxi to parking bays with inputs f ro m G P S satellites.

Anna now writes to all

In a bid to project a non-partisan face, Anna Hazare and his team on Sunday shot off a series of letters to leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi and BJP president Nitin Gadkari, trying to put them on the mat for the Lokpal issue. UP Chief Minister Mayawati and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav were the other recipients of letters signed by Hazare and his team members Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. While in the letter to Singh, signed only by Hazare, the Prime Minister is asked to show some courage to withdraw the “weak” Lokpal Bill and bring a stronger one, the one to Gandhi asked the Congress leader whether his party will dare bring a law on the lines of “strong” Lokayukta law in Uttarakhand. Gadkari was questioned as to why his party did not insist on Nitish Kumar government in Bihar in which it is a partner bringing a strong Lokayukta law like the one passed by BJP government in Uttarakhand. He was also asked why BJP changed tracks on bringing Lokayuktas through Lokpal bill.


Urban infrastructure

The government is committed to allot 0.25% of India's gross domestic product, or $4.2 billion (Rs.21,265 crore), in the 12th Five Year Plan to bridge the urban infrastructure gap, Kamal Nath, minister of urban development, told delegates from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
The funds will be allocated under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), for which Rs.50,000 crore was earmarked in the seven year period starting in 2005.
According to Amitabh Kundu, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, only the 65 mission cities under JNNURM benefit from the funds, while the 2,800 new towns identified by Census 2011 languish due to a lack of funds.
“For a stabilized urban infrastructure growth there should be a parallel structure to channelize funds to smaller towns. Unless this is done, the inequality between urban and semi urban cities will keep growing,“ he said.
Pointing to rapid urbanization, Nath said 53 Indian cities have a population of over a million each and by 2030 there will be 68 such cities. According to ministry estimates, India requires an investment of $1.2 trillion in the urban sector over the next 20 years.The government also plans to enhance the role of public-private partnerships in the infrastructure development sector to attract private capital, the minister said.

Of internet & GDP

Every 10% increase in Internet and broadband penetration in the country could potentially lead to the addition of $17 billion (around Rs.85,500 crore), or 1.08%, to India's gross domestic product (GDP), said a report released on Thursday.
An additional $87 billion of GDP can be generated in 2012-14 if targets in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (Trai's) National Broadband Plan are met, according to the report prepared by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, the department of information technology and the Internet and Mobile Association of India. Trai's plan envisages 160 million households with broadband connections by 2014.
Missing previous broadband roll-out targets has cost India about $100 billion of GDP, said the India: The impact of Internet report. It lists various policy recommendations to increase Internet usage in the country, which is low at just above 100 million users (compared with more than 800 million mobile connections). Delay could cost the nation millions of dollars in foregone income,“ the report said.
The impact on GDP will be different at various levels, said Rajat Kathuria, professor at the Inter national Management Institute and co-author of the report. “The impact in the beginning will be low, but as the penetration ramps up and reaches a critical mass, say 20-30%, the impact will be subsequently larger then.“ The report says it's the first to quantify the impact of the Internet on GDP specifically for India.
New Internet users in India will log on mostly via their mobile phones, the report said.“Mobile Internet will also be cheaper and more convenient than any other option,“ it said.
However, it said the policy for the Net and broadband will have to be carefully drafted unlike for mobile telephony, as just creating “enabling conditions on the supply side worked well for mo- bile telephony“ and also, in certain cases, the mobile paid for itself in terms of revenue generation for its users, but “demonstration of such benefits is a lot more challenging for Internet“.
The report has recommended a phased approach to wiring up the country. It said Trai aims to connect all areas with a population of 500 and above with an optical fibre network, but “it will be ill-advised to create this simultaneously in all areas“. It also said it will be too expensive to build the entire network from scratch and that the existing optical fibre network of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd can be utilized.
Several recommendations of the report have already been put into effect and Rs.20,000 crore will be spent to connect 250,000 gram panchayats across the country, said R. Chandrashekhar, secretary, department of telecommunications and DIT. “India will have 175 million broadband connections by 2014.“
The supply of broadband is not likely to create its own demand and there is “a need to push services, applications and usage“, the report said.
It added that affordability was the key to adoption, and based on the prior experience of cable TV and mobile phones, a price point of around Rs.200 per month can trigger brisk demand-side expansion of Internet services in India. The report called on the regulator to mandate all service providers to offer a basic Internet package at this rate.

The largest biometric id system

The Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) hit a mile stone this week when it crossed close to 120 million enrollments to become the largest biometric identification system in the world.
This means the UIDAI database will now be bigger than the FBI database and the US visa entry system--the two largest biometric databases in the world.
This has been possible due to the ecosystem of partners, he added. Currently, UIDAI has nearly 95,924 operators and 20,000 agencies working with UIDAI for the enrollment of 200 million people. The UIDAI also released preliminary figures from a study to ascertain the rate of failure to enroll. After conducting a study on a database of 84 million, this was estimated at just 0.14%. 99.86% of the population can be uniquely identified by our biometric system and even the remaining 0.14% of the population can be enrolled by demographic deduplication and manual inspection. The study also showed impressive results for the failure to identify duplicate or fake enrollments--only 0.035% of duplicates are not correctly identified.

Somewhere in Jharkhand....

In yet another gruesome operation, Maoists on Saturday triggered a landmine blast in which 13 state policemen were killed near Garhwa district’s Lalmatia village, about 250km from Ranchi, on Jharkhand’ border with Chhattisgarh. This is the second big attack since last November’s killing of Maoist ideologue and chief spokesman Kishenji in Bengal’s Jangalmahal area. Eleven security personnel were killed in a blast that targeted the cavalcade of Independent Lok Sabha MP Inder Singh Namdhari in Latehar in December. The Lalmatia blast, that hit an anti-landmine vehicle carrying the cops around 11.15am, was so powerful that the impact threw the armoured vehicle several feet into the air and it was badly mangled as it crashed back on the ground. The sound of explosion echoed as far as Bhandaria village, 4km away. As if to prove again that they had a free run of the place, Maoist guerillas kept local newsmen in captivity for two hours after the blast and even held a press conference. All the combatants involved in Saturday’s attack came without their faces covered, as they usually do during an operation. Eyewitnesses said these men, numbering 30 to 40, were all in their 20s and wore military fatigues. They said police should stop Operation Green Hunt, the multi-force operation against Naxals in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The Maoists also demanded an end to what they called assassinations of “revolutionary leaders” in fake encounters. The guerillas took away all the arms and ammunition the cops were carrying.

Pakistan & MFN

Pakistan commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim has said Islamabad can grant “full” Most Favoured Nation-status to India only after a “negative list” trade regime between the countries is phased out. The two countries are currently moving from a “positive list” regime to a “negative list” regime but even the “negative list” goes against the non-discriminatory trade that MFN status demands, Fahim said .

Of Pakistan & Bollywood

The three Khans of Bollywood not only rule the Indian box-office, they are also the kings of Pakistan. Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots collected Rs 5 crore across the border and the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer My Name Is Khan raked in Rs 5.25 crore. The Salman Khan-starrer Bodyguard outdid them both by earning Rs 6 crore. Another Shah Rukh-starrer, Don 2, meanwhile, is expected to pull in Rs 7.25 crore. In fact, some experts say Pakistan is now one of Bollywood’s top five overseas markets and could soon rival the business done in Australia. The ban on Indian films was lifted across the border in 2006, but things began really hotting up a year later. After the ban on Indian films was lifted in Pakistan, two older films—Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Awarapan’ and Sunny Deol’s ‘Kaafila’ —were symbolically released there. The John Abraham-starrer ‘Goal’ was the first new Indian release to open there in November 2007. It released with seven prints, but within two years the print run of Hindi films multiplied thrice over. ‘3 Idiots’, released in 2009, was shown on 22 screens. ‘Don 2’, released in 2011, had 38 screens. Now, there are about 80 cinemas there and trade pundits say another 20 could be added in two years. About 50 Hindi films release in Pakistan now every year and the big ones have the ability to do business of US $1 million (Rs 4 crore to 5 crore) or more, said Pakistani sources. All the top Khan films are sold for $200,000 to $300,000 (Rs 1 crore to 1.5 crore). Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan and Akshay Kumar films go for $75,000 to $150,000 (Rs 37.5 lakh to 75 lakh), said experts. Bollywood can’t ignore Pakistan now as an overseas market. Trade pundits said the business pattern in Pakistan is similar to that of the Punjab territory in India.

Visa on arrival

The number of nations whose citizens are eligible for visas on arrival (VoA) in India is likely to be expanded to include 13 countries largely from Europe, south-east and central Asia after a review convened by the PMO felt security conditions need not be a hurdle to promoting tourism. Countries that could be offered VoA include Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Brazil and South Africa. At the meeting, which was also attended by officials from other ministries like culture and environment, it was made clear that security cannot be invoked to strike down important government initiatives. At present, nationals of 13 countries can avail a visa on arrival, but list excludes most Asean countries VoA to be extended to Hyderabad, Goa, Kochi and Bengaluru airports The Union home ministry has been asked to work on details of the proposed new visa regime in a manner that factors in security concerns by utilizing information-sharing agreements with Asean and the European Union while ensuring that travel to India becomes hassle-free. Ramping up tourist numbers is seen as a significant revenue earner with six lakh foreign visitors a year being a miniscule proportion of global tourism. With timely intervention, the sector can grow much faster than the 24 million jobs currently targeted in the 12th Plan. So far, the VoA scheme has registered modest success with over 10,000 visas issued last year. At present, 13 countries whose nationals can avail of a visa on arrival include Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos and Myanmar. The list excludes more populous nations even in the Asean, which can be tapped for a much larger tourist footfall. The government is also drawing lessons from European countries that have leveraged tourism to tide over financial woes.

Pawan Hans

It’s a project that would straightaway double the number of helicopters in the country. The government-owned Pawan Hans has submitted a Rs 10,030-crore proposal to four central ministries seeking the purchase of 249 helicopters and 10 sea planes and the construction of 180 helipads across India. The aircraft and helipads would aid tourism, of course. But, more significantly, they would transform aerial surveillance, law-and-order monitoring and India’s response to medical emergencies and natural disasters. They would also make at least 30% of India’s districts and many remote areas more accessible. The project, split into four categories, would be funded with budgetary support from the four ministries. The major portion, a Rs 7,760-crore proposal, has been submitted to the Union ministry of home affairs. The other initiatives include a Rs 1,010-crore proposal sent to the Union ministry of civil aviation, a Rs 1,020-crore proposal sent to the Union ministry of development of the northeastern region and a Rs 240-crore proposal sent to the Union ministry of tourism. Once a ministry passes its respective proposal, it would then be included in its 2012-2017 five-year plan and implementation could begin, said an official at Pawan Hans. Of the new choppers, 178 would be for disaster management, medical emergencies and law enforcement, another 20 would be specially equipped for air surveillance, 20 would be for tourism and 21 for the North-East. The 10 sea planes would help connect Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep.


ID projects

A governmental group is looking at how to converge two major national identification projects, Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), said on Friday. The two projects are the unique identification project, which Nilekani leads and comes under the Planning Commission, and the National Population Register project, being undertaken by the registrar-general of India that comes under the home ministry. Both initiatives, in many ways, duplicate each other’s work. Home minister P Chidambaram has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to instruct the Planning Commission to bring a note to the cabinet on the status of UIDAI, so that there is clarity on which agency will perform the task of capturing the population’s biometric data. Nilekani declined to say anything on the controversy, other than that the Centre is discussing the various issues raised, both by the home ministry and the parliamentary standing committee on finance.

SC verdict on Vodafone

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected the income tax department’s claim of Rs 11,000 crore in capital gains tax from Vodafone, holding that the telecom giant’s acquisition of Hutchison Telecom was “offshore” in character and outside the jurisdiction of Indian authorities. Setting aside the Bombay High Court’s September 2010 judgment, a bench comprising CJI S H Kapadia and Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar asked the I-T department to refund within two months Rs 2,500 crore, with 4% interest, to Vodafone. Earlier, the court had asked Vodafone to deposit the amount and also give bank guarantees for Rs 8,500 crore. “Applying the ‘look at’ test in order to ascertain the true nature and character of the transaction, we hold that the offshore transaction herein is a bona fide structured foreign direct investment (FDI) into India which fell outside India’s territorial tax jurisdiction, hence not taxable,” the bench said. The verdict in the $11.08 billion deal has implications for foreign companies that have acquired stakes in entities that have assets or operations in India. The order offers clarity on tax treatment for global M&A deals and may boost investor sentiment in the country.


Global Hunger Index

With 21% of its population undernourished, nearly 44% of under-5 children underweight and 7% of them dying before they reach five years, India is firmly established among the world’s most hunger-ridden countries. The situation is better than only Congo, Chad, Ethiopia or Burundi, but it is worse than Sudan, North Korea, Pakistan or Nepal. This is according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which combines the above three indicators to give us a Global Hunger Index (GHI) according to which India is 67th among the worst 80 countries in terms of malnourishment. That’s not all. Data collected by GHI researchers shows that while there has been some improvement in children’s malnutrition and early deaths since 1990, the proportion of hungry in the population has actually gone up. Today India has 213 million hungry and malnourished people by GHI estimates although the UN agency Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) puts the figure at around 230 million. The difference is because FAO uses only the standard calorie intake formula for measuring sufficiency of food while the Hunger Index is based on broader criteria. Whichever way you slice it and dice it, the shameful reality is inescapable – India is home to the largest number of hungry people, about a quarter of the estimated 820 million in the whole world. The National Family and Health Survey (NFHS), last carried out in 2004-05, had shown that 23% of married men, 52% of married women and a chilling 72% of infants were anemic – a sure sign that a shockingly large number of families werecaught in a downward spiral of slow starvation. Global research has now firmly established that depriving the fetus of essential nutrients – as will happen in an under-nourished pregnant woman – seals the fate of the baby once it is born. It is likely to suffer from susceptibility to diseases and physical retardation, as also to mental faculties getting compromised. So, continuing to allow people to go hungry and malnourished, is not just more misery for them: it is the fate of future generations of Indians in balance.

Delhi Monorail

The monorail is all set to come to the crowded east Delhi. In an attempt to decongest the city and get more people to use public transport, the Delhi government has given an in-principle approval to a 10.8km elevated monorail link between Shastri Park Metro station and Trilokpuri via Laxmi Nagar in east Delhi. This is the first such link in the capital, which is expected to be functional by 2017. In the years to come, the monorail will also roll out in Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Jalandhar in Punjab. The monorail is most successful in Japan. Malaysia and the United States of America, too, use monorail extensively in the crowded areas. After giving the in-principle approval, chief minister Sheila Dikshit has now asked the Delhi State Infrastructure and Industrial Development Corporation to prepare a proposal to be tabled in the cabinet for a formal approval. To be developed at a cost of approximately Rs 1,655 crore, the route will have 12 stations and passengers will be able to interchange for three Metro lines. Delhiites will be able to interchange at Shatri Park Metro station for the Dilshad Garden- Rithala line; at Nirman Vihar Metro station for the Anand Vihar-Dwarka line, and at Trilokpuri Metro station for the under-construction Mukundpur-Yamuna Vihar line. It is estimated that in 2017, the link will cater to a daily ridership of about 1.5 lakh. The fare structure has been proposed keeping in mind the cost of Metro tickets. For now, the fare is likely to be Rs 2.50 per kilometre. A state-of-the-art, automatic fare collection system will be introduced with ticket vending and smart token systems. Citing the monorail as a viable solution to decongest crowded areas, a statement from the chief minister’s office on Tuesday stated that the monorail has also been recommended as a mass transit in MPD 2021. The CM’s statement goes on to add that the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has favoured introduction of the monorail in such congested areas where Delhi Metro services are not feasible. It has also been pointed out that laying of the monorail lines is cheaper as compared to Metro lines. The proposed monorail will be a straddle-type, elevated line that will be able to negotiate sharp curves and high gradient above the narrow roads. Light structures and columns can be placed in the limited median of roads. The rail can be located in crowded streets as it generates very little sound and is environment friendly. An alignment of the proposed route was also discussed in the meeting chaired by the CM on Tuesday. The route will start from Shastri Park Metro station passing through Yamuna Pushta Road, Rajaram Kohli Marg, Geeta Colony, Patparganj Road, Nirman Vihar Metro station on Vikas Marg, Ganesh Nagar, New Patparganj Road, Sanjay Lake to terminate parallel to connect proposed Trilokpuri Metro station.

An Autobahn to BIA

The ride towards Bengaluru International Airport and beyond will soon become a minutesonly affair with work under way to upgrade Bellary Road (NH 7) into an 18-lane autobahn with a high speed rail link (HSRL) embedded in it. The Rs 680-crore upgradation involves a 22.12-km stretch of the road beginning from Hebbal flyover up to Bachchalli railway gate, beyond the Trumpet Interchange leading to the airport. The autobahn will be 65 metres wide and have three-lane service roads on either side of the six-lane highway, besides the nation's first-ever six-lane elevated corridor running along the highway. On stretches where the elevated corridor is absent, it will be a 12-lane expressway. Work began in September 2010 and is expected to be completed by May 2013. Currently, properties adjoining the road on either side of the road have been notified for acquisition. Land up to a width of 5 metres will be acquired on either side of the road leading towards the airport. There have also been instances of land up to 15 metres wide being proposed for acquisition along some parts of the stretch. Each threelane service road will be 10.5 metres wide, while the existing main carriageway is about 25.5 metres wide. A 5-metre corridor between the carriageway and service road on the side of Esteem Mall will be earmarked for HSRL. NHAI authorities said pavements and drains will be accommodated in the 65-metre autobahn. NHAI has already released a compensation package of Rs450 crore to the state revenue department for payment towards properties to be acquired for the project. About 45 hectares of land will be acquired in all for the project.

Larger role for Priyanka ?

Long considered Congress’s star vote-catcher, Priyanka Vadra told reporters she would step out of the family pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli and campaign in the rest of Uttar Pradesh if her brother and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi asked her to. “I will do anything for my brother,” she said.

Nariman Point - Malad Freeway

An 11-member expert technical committee submitted its final report on the coastal road plan to the Maharashtra chief minister. The coastal freeway will comprise a combination of coastal road based on reclamation, bridge, elevated roads and tunnels as well as roads on existing lands and stilts. At the starting point will be a reclaimed road between Manora MLA hostel up to NCPA. From NCPA, there will be a tunnel going up to Marine Drive. It will continue further as a tunnel under Malabar Hill and exit beyond Priyadarshini Park at Nepean Sea Road. From here till Haji Ali, it will continue on a reclaimed road. A connecting bridge between NSCI at Worli and Baroda Palace will be again on a reclaimed road connecting up to the Bandra-Worli Sealink. Another reclaimed road will start from the north end of the sealink, skirt the Bandra Fort and stretch along Bandra Bandstand, Chimbai village and Carter Road. An elevated road skirting the Khar-Danda village will go underground at Juhu airport. The tunnel would exit at Ritambhara College in Juhu and run as a reclaimed road up to Nana Nani Park. From there, an elevated road takes it to the New Fisheries Institute at Versova, branching into two directions—one arm of it will be a reclaimed road right up to Mindspace in Malad. The other arm extends up to Versova village jetty. From the junction of the road leading to Goregaon Sports Club, the freeway will be on elevated over the creek at Malad Marve Road and join Link Road. The committee recommended two options for the project. The first involves a reclaimed road in mangrove areas with bridges and culverts to allow free movement of water. “It’s a less expensive option and easy to implement with reduced time for construction. Although this option entails short-term environmental issues arising out of compensatory mangrove plantations, no long-term damage to the environment is expected.” The second option envisages about 8 km of stilted or elevated roads. However, this would enhance the cost by about Rs 1,000 crore and will be more difficult to maintain. The cost will reduce by Rs 1,000 crore if the tunnel proposed between NCPA and Marine Drive is omitted. “The committee considers reclamation as a highly cost-effective option and one that also entails other benefits through creation of large open spaces to citizens,” said the report. It suggested a non-stop electronic toll collection for every entry into the freeway. “The committee also stresses the importance of maintenance and asset management and recommends that these aspects along with construction be entrusted to a professional agency on the lines of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation,’’ it said. “Completion of this project would mean a quantum leap towards enhancing the quality of life in the city. The added advantage is that it involves no land acquisition and virtually no resettlement component.’’

FDI in Airlines

In a major relief to financially distressed Indian carriers, the government said foreign airlines would soon be allowed to acquire up to 49% stake in them. After being debated for years, new aviation minister Ajit Singh announced this move following a meeting with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in the backdrop of at least two big airlines struggling to avoid a shutdown due to financial troubles and others desperately looking for funds. The aviation ministry was initially in favour of a 24% cap which was later relaxed to 26% to attract foreign airlines as this would give them some say in running of theairline. However, the sheer scale of financial stress forced the government to raise the cap to 49%. The same reason also led to the sidelining of old security fears that such a move would only bring money from airlines in the Gulf and China which had till now held up clearing of this move. Indian carriers face an accumulated debt of $16 billion (over 80,000 crore) on top of cumulative losses of $6 billion (over 30,000 crore). By the end of March 2012, losses are expected to mount to $8.5 billion (over 43,000 crore). The debt is projected to rise by another $3-4 billion (up to 22,000 crore) if Air India goes ahead with its Boeing 787 order
Airline promoters like Vijay Mallya, chairman of Kingfisher Airlines, have supported 49% FDI for foreign carriers. Sebi has also expressed its reluctance to relax the takeover code guidelines to permit foreign carriers to acquire shares from the public through an open offer for an additional 26%. By seeking an exemption, the government had hoped to stay within the sectoral FDI cap. Kingfisher and AI are struggling to survive and other carriers remain under-capitalized. Ajit Singh said FDI was among the important things required by airlines to survive financial turbulence. Indian carriers can expect investment from foreign airlines after a gap of 16 years. The policy was reversed in 1996 when Tata-Singapore Airlines planned a foray into the Indian airspace via ajoint venture. At that point, Naresh Goyal-owned Jet Airways had to buy back its 40% stake held equally by Gulf Air and Kuwait Airlines. CAPA India head Kapil Kaul expects cashrich Gulf carriers and Singapore Airlines to be among those looking to invest in India, apart from British Airways that has already declared its intent to put money in where opportunity exists. There are indications that BA might bail out Kingfisher through FDI and Mallya’s troubled airline is set to join BA-led OneWorld alliance next month.

Somewhere in Andhra Pradesh....

In a major fire, 100 two-wheelers, 20 four-wheelers and 33 autos parked in Goshamahal stadium’s parking lot were gutted on Wednesday morning. About 400 two-wheelers were also partially damaged in the fire. The parking lot, which is outside the compound wall of the stadium, contained over 1,000 vehicles that the Goshamahal police had seized. The incident occurred at around 9am on Wednesday. Fire department officials said that about 500 vehicles were partially burnt-.While the cause of fire has not been determined, officials from Gowliguda fire station said that the blaze could have been started by a cigarette butt that had not been put out properly. Vehicles seized by the police in the city and those involved in any kind of accident litigation are housed at this parking lot, which is police property. Unclaimed items like furniture are also dumped at this parking lot.

World Bank pegs India's growth at 6.8%

The World Bank on Wednesday said the Indian economy is expected to grow by 6.8%, compared to PM Manmohan Singh’s 7% projection and the 8.5% expansion witnessed in 2010-11. In addition, it warned that the 8% mark is unlikely to be regained anytime before 2013-14 due to moderation in demand, a deceleration in investment and heightened uncertainty in the wake of the global economic environment. Local factors such “policy uncertainty, stalled reforms, and deteriorating political and security conditions” are making things worse in South Asia, the multilateral agency said in the latest Global Economic Prospects. “Developing countries should prepare for further downside risks, as Euro Area debt problems and weakening growth in several big emerging economies are dimming global growth prospects.” The growth moderation in developing countries such as India is also expected to take a toll on the global economy, it added. The report said that a deterioration in the international bank funding conditions and the impact on local stock markets has caused a sharp depreciation in local currencies, such as the rupee, against the dollar in the second half of 2011. Although inflationary pressures are expected to ease, the depreciation is not helping the price situation ease the way it should. It also warned of weaker exports — something that was already visible — and moderation in worker remittances from overseas as well as capital flows due to the Euro Area crisis and problems in West Asia. In case of India, the World Bank said that household spending had been curbed due to persistently rising prices, that ate into real income and higher borrowing costs also affected demand. It, however, warned that there was limited space to introduce fiscal stimulus measures, similar to 2008-09, as the government was running a large fiscal deficit. Besides, monetary easing through lower policy rates may fuel inflation and impact the economy, especially the poor. In these circumstances, expenditure rationalization may help the government, especially to protect critical social schemes, the World Bank said.

UIDAI snippets

The Centre has taken a concrete step to empower IT czar Nandan Nilekani-headed Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), in its bid to draft a fresh legislation to give legal sanctity to the authority. Sources said that the draft to legalize UIDAI is at a conceptualization stage, and once the legislation gets the Parliament’s nod it will get legal status, ensuring it can enrol and provide unique number to all residents across the country. UIDAI, which is mandated to enrol 200 million residents by March, is also likelyto get an independent status. Now, it is under the Planning Commission. The voluntary facility will ensure that thousands of crores worth of welfare schemes reach the aam admi by helping the poor to open their bank accounts, avail of rural job schemes and food security programmes. It is expected to make dispensation of government services more efficient. The government’s fresh move comes in the backdrop of the Parliamentary standing committee on finance ridiculing the UIDAI, and the home ministry also raising objections on the authority’s mandate. The home ministry had joined issue with UIDAI, saying the Registrar General of India (RGI) akin to the Authority was compiling biometric details to build a National Population Register (NPR). Though the UIDAI was asked to collect biometric details of up to 20 crore citizens till March, the arrangement was that the same data can be used by the RGI for preparing NPR. But, now RGI is refusing to use the data collected by UIDAI, claiming it was not foolproof. The reason: the Authority’s methodology raised security concern and it did not meet the Union Cabinet’s approval. It was argued that RGI was the only authority legally empowered to enumerate data on the population. Earlier, the Planning Commission had suggested rules be amended so that all data, collected by the Authority, can be used by RGI.

Mumbai roadlinks planned

The Maharashtra government is looking beyond its proposed coastal road plan to develop a comprehensive network of urban freeways and highways connecting the financial capital of the country to major satellite townships. The 1,740-km highway corridor will be developed by 2030. This has been recommended by the 11-member joint technical expert committee, which submitted its final report to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Tuesday. The panel, headed by municipal commissioner Subodh Kumar, has drawn the idea from a Comprehensive Transport Strategy prepared by consultants Lea Associates for the MMRDA in 2009. The committee acknowledged that even though the share of public transport in Mumbai and surrounding areas is already high, the roads are badly congested and the government needs to substantially invest in road transport infrastructure. This could be done in the form of rings, radials, urban freeways and a well-developed and connected network of highways. High-quality transport network consisting of urban freeways and different types of transit system is the need of the hour, the panel has said. The highway network would connect to a ring road that would be constructed around Mumbai. Beginning from Nariman Point in South Mumbai and connecting to Versova will be the Western Freeway. Similarly, an Eastern Freeway will run along the Eastern Coast of the Island City and connect to Chembur, further merging with the Eastern Express Highway at Ghatkopar. The proposed Sewri-Nhava Trans Harbour Link will secure connectivity between Sewri and Nhava. The MTHL and the Virar-Alibag corridor will complete the ring road around Mumbai. While the overall cost estimate has not been arrived at, the ring road could be around 58 kms and cost Rs 32,000 crore, said estimates. Of the total network of Highway Corridor, nearly 539 kms will be newly developed, another 782 kms of existing arterial road will be upgraded or extended, arterial corridors and links to the length of 420 km will be constructed. The proposed Highway Corridor will include Eastern Freeway, Sewri-Worli Sea Link, Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (from Sewree to Kharkopar, Rave), inner ring roads connecting Kaman, Bhiwandi, Panvel and Dronagiri, Middle Ring Road connecting Bhiwandi, Nandivali, Narthengaon, Panvel and Kharkopar). An Outer Ring Road connecting Khopoli, Jite and Rewas Port will complete the ring. This apart, there will be eight radials connecting NH-8, parts of NH-3, Bhiwandi Bypass, Nahur, Airoli, Nilaje, Badlapur, Chembur, Mankhurd, Vashi, Taloja, Belapur, Kalamboli, Uran, Pen and New Airport. The corridor will be completed by extending Western Coastal Freeway in the south and north up to Virar.